Wednesday , Dec , 05 , 2007 Christopher Sells

Dwight Howard on the Rise

A brief glance at the standings at about a quarter of the way through this NBA season doesn’t really reveal anything too much out of the ordinary. There are a couple of teams you thought were going to do well but haven’t. They could still turn it around, there’s time left.

Division leaders are who you thought they would be. San Antonio, Phoenix, Utah, Detroit, Boston, Orlando…


To be fair, the Orlando Magic pulled a similar stunt last year, only to falter down the stretch and limp into the playoffs. Such things happen with young teams. It’s a long season and it’s hard to keep sneaking up on other teams.

This year appears to be different. There’s still plenty of time for the team to prove otherwise, but there are signs that this could be the real thing. Hedo Turkoglu is having his best year as a pro, averaging career high in a number of statistical categories. Jameer Nelson’s play actually resembles that of a point guard, something that hasn’t been a given in his young career. And if you disregard Rashard Lewis’ massive salary, he’s putting up very solid numbers.

Make no mistake though; the fortunes of the Magic– now and for years to come– rest squarely on the freakishly broad shoulders of Dwight Howard.

Howard’s play has been nothing short of spectacular after 20 games. His averages of 23 points, three blocks, 15 rebounds and his 61% field goal shooting all rank among the highest in the league and have him being mentioned in early MVP conversations. This is all from a player who will celebrate his 22nd birthday Friday.

Think about that. 22 years old. In six or seven years, Howard will just be entering what many consider to be the prime of his career. Assuming that he continues to work on his game (and hopefully is adopted by a wise veteran who will teach him the ways of the league), his ceiling will be even higher than the tape measure he used during the Dunk Competition is capable of reaching.

Of course, Howard’s game isn’t perfect. His free throw percentage is actually lower than his field goal percentage. His jumper isn’t quite reliable just yet. His passing skills need some development, as evidenced by his 3.6 turnovers per game. Teams are starting to game plan around Howard and his ability to hit the open man out of a double or triple team will be absolutely necessary if Orlando is to continue its early-season dominance.

But even if the team falters, Howard will continue to shine. He’s becoming one of those players you tune in specifically to see and his athleticism means that he’ll usually reward watchers with a spectacular play or two every game. His gregarious personality is also a welcome change from other players whose images are less than wholesome. Never before has a player in the League been caught on camera doing impersonations from Disney’s Lion King.

Playing in the shadows of the Epcot Center, Howard’s family-friendly personality and easy smile mean that you’ll be seeing a lot of him for years to come. There’s no way that the NBA’s marketing team won’t find a way to capitalize on the league’s newest, brightest star. adidas already has him in commercials cranking dat Soulja Boy (or whatever you call it) in the name of selling sneakers. No doubt other companies will soon jump on the Dwight Howard bandwagon, which already has limited seating available.

Start paying attention now. The opportunity to watch the ascent of a star doesn’t come along every day and Howard is certainly already on his way.